Friday, May 24, 2013

When is the next bus coming?: Looking to reality to tell us about reality

It's been a long time. Indeed, recent circumstances have made it difficult for me to keep up blogging with the regularity I would like. I have to apologise to those who have over the years looked forward to reading my blogposts. I appreciate and will always be grateful for your support and I will be looking to make up for my inactivity over recent months in the weeks to come.

I am happy to report that since my last post at the end of March, I have successfully defended my doctoral thesis looking at the development of renewable energy in the Caribbean. That brought to an end the piece of work that I have dedicated myself to over the last five years and it was certainly exciting as well as a great relief to complete that journey.

At the same time I have had to go through a significant life challenge. One that I hope to write about someday, but that someday is not today.

A break from blogging has not in any way meant that I have had a break from thinking. I have kept up my activism through the weekly ' Freethinking Island' podcast where I continue to be inspired by the great guests that we have had coming through. I was part of a demonstration in support of the atheist Bangladeshi bloggers here in Calgary and I have taken part in a Pathway River Cleanup with fellow atheists that produced a very unlikely reunion with Shanon. When I last saw her four years ago she was a fundamentalist Christian that would not even walk to the other side of the room unless Jesus told her.  I once played music with her every week in a church group as we led worship. Since that time, unknown to each other we both took our separate journeys away from faith.  Now we are both playing on the side of the atheists and are quite sure we have finally chosen the correct team.

Yes, there was much to think about in the last few months, but it is a challenge when you've been away from writing a bit and need to just pick that one idea to blog about to get you back into the groove. I was thinking about all of this today while waiting for a bus in the rain. On days like today in Calgary, any wait for public transportation seems like an eternity and while it's not as bad as being in -30 in January, it's still definitely in the uncomfortable category.

Fortunately in today's world, at least in Canada, you don't have to be left guessing about bus arrivals too much as there is a 'Teleride' phone number you can call that gives you a relatively accurate idea of how long you have to wait.  Well, this morning as I took up my phone to call the automated number, I saw the trademark white with red and blue stripes of Calgary Transit in the distance and I knew my bus was on its way. Once I spotted it, I hung up the phone and put it safely in my pocket. No need for any info now, the bus was here. All I needed was to wait for it to stop and get on.

What happened this morning was nothing unusual. I have experienced this many times. You go to make the call and then you don't need to because you have your answer right there in front of you. Seems quite straightforward, but I realized today that for many in faith, looking for answers is far from being as simple as that.

For them, direct observation of the thing they are trying to find out about is not where they go to first to find out about that thing. No, their trust is more in the thing that talks about reality than reality itself. It sounds crazy, but that is exactly how it is with fundamentalist Christians. In their worldview the bible is more real than even the reality of which it is purported to speak to. When you give the thing that maps to reality greater credence than reality, you end up with absurdity. Imagine if I took a leaf out of the fundamentalists' book when I was at the bus-stop today.

I could easily reason that 'Teleride' was the true source of knowledge  for all bus behaviour. Honestly, it is generally accurate and if you put your trust in what it says, you will get where you want to on time at least 80% of the time. I can vouch for this from personal experience and others I am sure can testify. So at least in terms of ability to 'prophesy' arrivals of buses, 'Teleride' has a track record. The book that the fundamentalists carry around has pointed to an 'arrival' for centuries now but neither the 'holy train' nor the luxury coach on the highway to heaven has made a stop to pick up all the eager passengers. So, from my perspective, having faith in my 'Teleride' is at least just as rational as putting faith in their bible.

So today if I was in fundamentalist mode, I should have continued to listen to the machine and get the info on the arrival times even though the bus was right in front of my nose. I should have understood that the position of the bus depended solely on where 'Teleride' said it was and it could only arrive when 'Teleride' said it would arrive. So if the automated voice said ' #72 will arrive in five minutes' I would be forced to wave on the driver of the apparent # 72. I would have to call the bus 'apparent' because it just could not be real. It would have to be a fake, the driver the equivalent of a false prophet, sent to lure unsuspecting passengers on board, taking them on a road trip to hell. I should have stood waving my cellphone wildly, scaring all the passengers climbing on board, by explaining that only 'Teleride' could answer that question that all users of public transportation since the beginning of time have wanted to know. "When is the next bus coming?"

The Prophecy of 'Teleride' revealed 

If you think that trying to rationalise away the bus that doesn't conform to the 'Teleride' prophecy is ridiculous, think again. The 'fake bus' theory is not without precedence in history. One driver told me about an incident one night when an angry passenger actually drove off one of the buses when the driver had got off momentarily. It is not uncommon here in the city for drivers to leave buses idling as they slip out for a quick smoke, toilet break or coffee when they are a couple minutes ahead of schedule. Apparently on one occasion a passenger just drove off the vehicle and it took them a couple of hours to track down this 'rogue' bus. So it can happen and has happened. Why could it not be that this morning's bus was one of those? False buses, false drivers, false passengers, I am sure I could dig up or fabricate some 'Calgary Transit' pamphlets that could be interpreted in a way that speaks to their existence. I could scoff at the public for being so gullible to believe that every bus driver sincerely has a desire to lead them to the correct destination.

I can hear atheists laughing even as I am writing this, in considering life in a world where the gospel according to 'Teleride' held sway. At the same time, I can imagine my religious friends shaking their heads vigorously.  They would  admonish me for using a poor analogy, for making the same mistakes all atheists make, by thinking that Christians just rely on the bible. They will no doubt tell me that their belief is based on direct experience too. Direct experience with Jesus, who they have a personal relationship with. They will let me know that they are as sure of their Jesus as I was of the existence of the #72 this morning.

But there is one big problem with a claim like this. Many people that have been hanging around their bus- stop for years have never seen this driver nor his bus. Some report seeing a bus, but it is entirely different. Maybe driven by Mohammad, Shiva or Abraham. I have even heard of a young driver called Joseph who has a sleek vehicle with gold plated license plates. I would have to question Christians as to why only people with a particular cultural and religion conditioning see the 'Jesus bus' and want to get on.

One thing about the 'Calgary Transit' buses is that they are accessible to everyone. It doesn't matter the culture, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation or  level of ability or disability. Everyone can get on, but moreover everyone acknowledges when buses arrive at the bus stop. Sometimes people rush on, other times people enter circumspectly, waiting for the driver confirmation. Some get on and then get off smartly when they realise the bus is not the one they want and some just wave the bus away entirely. Everyone acknowledges or reacts to the bus in some way or the other. So even as there is no doubt about the existence of the buses, there is passenger free will as commuters can hop on and off the buses as they see fit or 'motion' them to go on if they are not interested.

Infallible until it fails

It's hilarious to think of how much religionists skew the nature of reality right before their eyes by trying to make it fit with a book that they consider to be an infallible guide. I personally have never understood this concept of infallibility. To me there are two categories of things. Those which have failed in the past and those that haven't been seen to fail as yet. To make the leap from something you have not seen fail yet to assume that it would never fail is mind boggling. But that is what happens in the mind of the fundamentalist.

' He never fail me yet, He never fail me yet, my Jesus never fail me yet!'

This is a favourite chorus in the Caribbean. Presumably that line is evidence that Jesus will never fail them in the future either. Well, my heart has never failed me yet, but does that justify me believing that it will never give out? A thing only needs to fail once and that is when infallibility becomes null and void.

So, no matter how accurate your book has been in the past, if it doesn't conform to the reality it purports to describe you have to go with what reality says and conclude that the book was wrong this time. Any authority can be wrong once. If you catch a bus every morning for ten years and it s never late, you can rely on it. But if one morning the bus doesn't show up you can't argue that it 'has to be there' because it has never been late before. If the bus is not there, it's not there. Doesn't matter what has happened before in history, what the statistics suggest or what is prescribed in a schedule. Reality is still reality and if you have the direct evidence available that's what should always win out.

I had the pleasure of chatting with world renowned physicist Lawrence Krauss last year when he came to Calgary and one thing he said is that if you want to find out what the universe is like you go out there and look at it. A simple message but one so often overlooked. No amount of philosophical musings and 'what ifs' can substitute for going out and making a direct measurement.

When creationists go out of their way to make the universe 6,000 years old to fit with their book rather than the 14 billion that we have been able to accurately measure through various scientific methods, they are doing just like the person who pretends that buses in Calgary are only able to behave in accordance with the word of 'Teleride.' They are like the person who maintains that only 'Teleride' can answer the ultimate question. 'When is the next bus coming?'

Creationists are like  conspiracy theorists that say that all the buses, drivers, passengers and even the bus stops are fake. A God who provides that much fake evidence would be a prankster not worthy of following, far less worshipping. That God would be as silly as a public transit company that put 'dummy' buses on the road just to fool passengers.

When is the next blog coming?

Well, I suppose the only remaining question for readers today for me is, ' When is the next blog coming?'

I won't do like the divine writer in the sky and just say I write in mysterious ways and bloggers' 'time' is different from readers' 'time'. I'll try to return to some kind of earrhly schedule. Those of you that take buses regularly know that sometimes when you have a long wait for a bus, two come in close succession. I am trusting that what is true for the bus will turn out to be true for this blog as well.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed the return ride today!